Tall, blond, fair-skinned and sharp-nosed. This is the image a lot of Filipinos carry in their heads of the ideal physical appearance that they dream of achieving. This is in no small part due to the excessive admiration that Filipinos have for things Western, particularly American. The stuff that mass media broadcasts only propagates this stereotype. But let’s be honest with ourselves: whether it’s due to an inborn inferiority complex or the inculcation of “foreign is better” mindset into millions of Filipinos ever since time immemorial, a lot of us have secretly wished to be at least one of the traits I mentioned.
[Photo courtesy Gurl.com]
Why bring up such a topic? If you’ve been reading recent events in the Philippines, president Benigno Simeon Aquino III (BS Aquino) has just vetoed a bill removing the height requirements for those who want to become policemen.
“If you need to rescue someone from a burning house … or secure detainees, then you would need certain physical attributes. That is the nature of these jobs and it is not discrimination,” she told reporters.
Mr. Aquino’s minimum height of 1.63 metres for men and 1.57 metres for women applying for these jobs, would still apply, Valte said.
Unfortunately, this is the Philippines, where credentials such as brand/family name, height, skin color, age, civil status, and accent, just to name a few, determine your chances of getting a job as much as or perhaps even more than your ability to actually do the job. In other more civilized countries, this would be called discrimination.
You can see it in job advertisements here in the Philippines: many employers still look for certain physical requirements such as gender, height, weight, and age, for example. I remember an example used in one of my former companies, an American one. In the orientation, it was mentioned that a distinct difference between a Filipino company and an American company looking for the same heavy lifter would be that the former would specify the gender, male. The American company would instead leave out any mention of gender, and indicate instead on the job advertisement “must be able to lift heavy things.”
There is nothing wrong with narrowing the potential applicants to a job down by listing specifics of what is required. What is iffy, if not downright wrong, is including certain credentials or physical characteristics in the requirements where they are not needed or not directly connected with the ability to do the job. This is something that will fly over most Filipino’s heads.
Even the inevitable and seemingly innocuous interview question “Are you married?” is already considered a discriminatory question in other parts of the world. Here, it is still asked by many interviewers even when it is glaringly clear that:
a) The civil status usually has little to no correlation with the skill set needed for the job, and
b) There are other ways and questions to ask to determine the candidate’s willingness to go the extra mile, or be relocated for work purposes.
That’s the reality of the business world, but discrimination is still a way of life in the Philippines. Going back to the stereotype ideal I mentioned at the start, Filipinos have nothing but awe for people who possess at least one of those physical traits. This is why the mestizos/as and half-breeds are virtually worshiped by Filipinos for their physical appearance alone!
Now, let’s take ourselves back to reality. The typical Filipino’s physical characteristics are: of average height, dark-haired, dark-skinned (kayumanggi), and snub-nosed (pango). If a Filipino happens to have any or a combination of these physical traits, particularly the average height and the dark-skin, chances are he has been ridiculed for it.
Bansot (shorty), dwende (dwarf), intsik (Chinese), negro (dark-skinned), and bumbay (referring to Indians) – these constitute but a small sample of the discriminatory language Filipinos are capable of. And yet their actions speak louder than those words. If you stand out physically in the Philippines you may have gotten the stare from the locals. They stare at people that stand out, and some of them even regard you with a bit of suspicion.
Unfortunately, the discrimination one can potentially face in Filipino society isn’t just limited to physical characteristics. Depending on the region of the Philippines your lineage comes from, certain stereotypes will be attached to you by other ethnic groups within the Philippines. The frugality of Ilocanos is interpreted by other Filipinos as stinginess. There are Filipinos who poke fun at the “ala’eh” of the Batangueños, P-F deficiency of the Ilocanos, and the breathy consonant sounds of the Kapampangans. When it comes to speaking Filipino, for example, many Filipinos make fun of how Visayans and Mindanaoans speak it, never mind that it is not their first language and that they are forced to learn it in school, pretty much the same way Luzon inhabitants are. On the other hand, Visayans and Mindanaoans throw a lot of scorn onto people from the place they call “Imperial Manila” whom they perceive as arrogant and high-browed.
Even religion isn’t safe from discrimination from Filipinos. In a country that’s overwhelmingly Catholic, a person who is neither Catholic nor Christian will surely elicit stares and premature judgments from Filipinos. And it’s a safe guess that even among the various sects of Catholicism and Christianity here, they don’t necessarily all get along well with each other. And the Filipino atheist movement? If their idea of atheist is persecuting people for having a religion, instead of helping them to see beyond religion, then why bother with another idea which Filipinos turn into utter crap?
Filipino society can be best described as clannish. As I said in one of my previous articles, it seems that the tendency of Filipinos is to refer to themselves as being first from a certain ethnic group, instead of being from the Philippines. The idea that “Filipinos are Filipinos regardless of region or ethnic group” is one that is not yet very strongly ingrained into the national psyche. Each ethnic group still insists on its own superiority above the others and doesn’t see itself as part of a collective Filipino identity.
Perhaps the most distressing discrimination that one can face in Filipino society is not due to ethnicity or physical characteristics, but due to his/her desire to go against the grain of conventional and populist thinking. People who prefer scholarly pursuits over having a good time and partying are regarded as corny, mga killjoy and walang pakisama. People who follow the rules get frowned upon and ostracized.
No one faces such ostracism more than the people who dare criticize and point out the flaws and dysfunction of Filipino culture and society, and since 2009, those who dare criticize BS Aquino for all his errors in judgment, his general incompetence, and his utter lack of qualification for the top government post.
[Photo courtesy Coloribus.com]
Filipinos are notorious as an ethnic group who are too attached to their archaic traditions. They are hypersensitive about receiving feedback. Their “pwede-na-yan“ and “bahala na“ mindsets keep them from being receptive to new and different ideas. Innovation and out-of-the-box thinking take a backseat to conformism, pakikisama, and absolute deference to one’s elders. Worst of all, Filipinos are among the world’s most judgmental people. Instead of trying to understand and learn from people who do not necessarily look and think the way they do, they immediately put them in a box, and pass judgment instead of trying to listen and pick up lessons that may be useful to them.
It is this high perch that Filipinos undeservedly like to put themselves on, that keeps them from shedding their old skin.
Discrimination is not unique to the Philippines. Even in civilized countries it has not totally been eliminated, but other nations have come a long way in changing such mindsets. For example, in the United States, the attitude towards blacks has changed considerably from the time Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white. The Germans have tried hard to shed their Nazi image.
The underlying question is, why can’t we do similar reforms in our own society?
Education is one of the best weapons against discrimination. The challenge is teaching people how to think and not what to think. That way they can make up their own minds and move beyond religious belief, skin color, and even unnecessary conformist thinking.
In the Philippines, however, ignorance is bliss.
Until Filipinos learn to celebrate their diversity, and while they continue to divide themselves over it, they will continue to struggle as a nation.
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